UNH, Verizon ready to team up for successful regional
Senior Thomas Fortney, who had scored a grand total of two goals all season, got the call to take the late-game faceoff in the North Dakota end of the ice.
Less than six seconds - 5.7 to be precise - remained in the University of New Hampshire's 2009 NCAA Northeast Regional game against the Fighting Sioux and the Wildcats were down a goal and down to their last chance at the Verizon Wireless Arena in Manchester.
Fortney won the draw back and defenseman Kevin Kapstad made a nice play to keep the puck in the zone and slid it across to Mike Sislo. Sislo's shot missed the net and came out the other side, Jerry Pollastrone back-handed a pretty pass toward the front of the net and Fortney whacked at the puck and knocked it in.
The official time on the goal: 19:59.9. The clock read .1. One tenth of a second remained in the game.
"It doesn't get any better than that," said UNH director of athletics Marty Scarano.
"You can't be any closer," said coach Dick Umile last week when recalling the most dramatic goal in school history. "And then to come out and win it in overtime. You can't write that up in a script. It was crazy. Awesome."
Fortney tied the game with North Dakota at 5-5. Just 45 seconds into overtime Peter LeBlanc scored the game-winner to make sure his team took advantage of Fortney's heroics and send the Wildcats on to the Regional finals.
The next day UNH lost a 2-1 heartbreaker when Boston University scored a power play goal with 15 seconds left in regulation. The Terriers went on to win the national championship.
The Wildcats lost their first game in the regionals in Manchester in both 2004 and 2007.
They struck back in 2009 and forged an NCAA Shining Moment.
They will try to collect a couple more when the Northeast Regional returns to the Verizon next weekend.
Pairings and matchups for the NCAA Division I ice hockey tournament will be announced in a Selection Show tonight at 9 on ESPNU.
On Friday and Saturday at the Verizon, UNH will host the Regionals for the fifth time. And for the fifth time the Wildcats - because they qualified for the tournament on the strength of their 19-11-7 overall season - will play in their own Regional.
The deal is this: If a host team qualifies, it is guaranteed a spot in the Regional it is hosting. There is no advantage as far as getting into the tournament just because a school is hosting.
The Verizon opened in the fall of 2001 and UNH played host to its first regional in March of 2004.
"When we started down this road a decade ago, we aspired to be an athletics department that had a national reach," Scarano said. "It was important to that endeavor to extend ourselves with the NCAA. Having a regional is the gold standard, if we could achieve that, which we did."
Scarano credits his staff, and general manager Tim Bechert and his SMG staff at the Verizon, for continually putting on successful regionals.
Michigan and UNH played in front of a sellout crowd of 10,104 in the first regional in 2004 and Manchester, while not matching that number in subsequent years, consistently is one of the best attended Regionals.
As of last week, more tickets had been sold for the regional at the Verizon than for his year's other regionals in Providence, Grand Rapids, Mich., and Toledo, Ohio, said UNH deputy director of athletics Steve Metcalf. .
"We'd like to sell out," Metcalf said. "But 8,000 would be a good goal. It depends on the teams you get in your region."
The top rated Hockey East team, either UMass-Lowell or Boston College, will likely be in Manchester. Perhaps Notre Dame, which joins Hockey East next season, will be in the mix, too, Scarano said.
Passing the "Red Test" gave Scarano, early on, an inkling that things might work out with Manchester and NCAAs.
Gordon "Red" Berenson, the longtime coach at Michigan, brought his Wolverines to the first regional in Manchester in 2004.
"It was one of the great moments in Manchester," Scarano said with a laugh. "Michigan came in and Red can sometimes be a little difficult to deal with. He takes a provocative view at Regionals, let's say. As he was leaving Manchester, he said, 'This was one of the best GD regional sites ever."
Boston College coach Jerry York and many others who have come through since echo the sentiment and cite everything from how the athletes are treated to the proximity of the Manchester-Boston Regional Airport to the hotels to the top-notch food served to NCAA guests, officials and the media, Scarano said.
UNH and the Verizon and Manchester will try to build on their reputation for regionals next weekend.
On the ice, the Wildcats will try to take things a step further.
UNH lost in its first game in the Regionals in 2004 and in 2007. The Wildcats knocked off North Dakota in the memorable first game in 2009. In 2011, as the No. 4 seed, they ousted No. 1 Miami, 3-1, in their opener.
Not once in four tries have the Wildcats advanced out of Manchester to the Frozen Four.
They'll try net weekend to win a couple of games and move on to their first Frozen Four - this year's edition will be held in Pittsburgh on April 11-13 - since they lost to Minnesota in the championship game in Buffalo in 2003.
Senior forward Austin Block thinks the Wildcats, who had a much better first half of the season than second, have a couple of things going for them.
"We went from being the top dog to being an underdog," he said. "That's not a bad thing. And having home ice, that's a huge advantage for us. ... We've been close a few years while we've been here to getting to the Frozen Four. I think it's time to get there for once."
The Northeast Regional opens with games at 4:30 and 8 p.m. on Friday. The regional final is Saturday at 6:30.